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Cattle banditry threatens peace in young country of South Sudan

Cattle raids are not new in South Sudan. But with a gun surplus left behind by two decades of civil war with Sudan, the raids are more violent, adding fuel to long-standing economic and ethnic rivalries in the herding communities. South Sudan officially became Africa's 54th nation in July, but the young country continues to struggle with internal violence.

Tony Karumba / AFP - Getty Images

A herdsman from the Dinka tribe is pictured at a cattle-camp near south Sudan's central town of Rumbek.

BBC News describes the importance of cattle to the South Sudanese culture:

In many South Sudanese communities the cow is incredibly important.

It is a source of personal wealth, and young men cannot get married without paying a dowry of cows.

So, in what are very poor communities, cattle raiding has become a way of life for some.

To make matters worse, automatic weapons are everywhere, following decades of civil war.

In the past, cattle raids caused relatively few casualties. Now the guns boom, and scores or even hundreds die in a day - creating a commensurate desire for revenge. 

Tony Karumba / AFP - Getty Images

A herdsman stands among his cattle at a cattle-camp near south Sudan's central town of Rumbek on Nov. 13. One of Africa's longest-running wars left this land in ruins and battling a bitter legacy that threatens prospects for peace -- a stockpile of weapons spurring cattle raids and banditry.

See more about Sudan's split into two countries